WASHINGTON – Top executives of Halliburton (search) will be asked to testify next month before a House committee investigating potential favoritism and waste in Iraq (search) reconstruction contracts.
In a bipartisan agreement, announced Tuesday despite political bickering over Halliburton's role in Iraq, Government Reform Committee (search) leaders said they would invite testimony from Halliburton's chief executive officer, David Lesar, and the CEO of the company's KBR (search) subsidiary, Randy Harl.
Halliburton has been awarded more than $7 billion in Iraq contract work that involves everything from restoring oil production to feeding and housing U.S. troops.
Vice President Dick Cheney (search) headed Halliburton before leaving in 2000 to run for vice president. He has denied having any role in the military's contract awards to Halliburton, which received much of its work through "task orders" — assignments that do not require competitive bids.
In the past few days the senior Democrat on the committee, Rep. Henry Waxman of California, revealed that a senior Pentagon (search) political appointee chose Halliburton to plan for reconstruction of Iraq's oil fields in 2002 — and briefed Cheney's chief of staff before the no-bid work was awarded to the firm.
At Tuesday's hearing, committee Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., and Waxman agreed that the Halliburton executives would be asked to testify and the lawmakers said they would work together to determine whether documents should be subpoenaed. Waxman said he also wants to subpoena Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to produce records on Department of Defense contracts with Cheney's office.
Waxman said he also wants records on construction giant Bechtel (search), which has a major Iraq contract, and several lawmakers added companies they want to include in the investigation.
Halliburton spokeswoman Wendy Hall was noncommittal on whether the executives would agree to testify.
"Today, our primary concern is to monitor the hearing to see what issues come forward," she said. "Halliburton believes its actions in Iraq are designed to deliver the best quality products and services on the best terms available as called for in our contract. We will work with the committee to assist them in fulfilling their important oversight functions."
The agreement did not stop Republicans from accusing Waxman of politically motivated attacks on Halliburton and Cheney, nor did Waxman let up on those attacks.
"Too many Democrats, for political reasons I completely understand but personally find distasteful, have chosen to practice oversight by press release, oversight by leaking draft reports and confidential briefings," Davis said at Tuesday's committee hearing.
"This is a strategy being driven top down by the House Democratic leadership," Davis charged.
Waxman responded with examples of waste, fraud and abuse that, he said, came from former Halliburton employees who spoke privately with the committee. Among the allegations:
— A former logistics specialist said Halliburton charged taxpayers $10,000 a day to house employees in a five-star hotel in Kuwait instead of the $600 per day cost of using the same air-conditioned tents that house U.S. troops.
— A former "convoy commander" said Halliburton removed spare tires from its new $85,000 trucks, and gave instructions to abandon or "torch" the vehicles if they had a flat tire.
Waxman also said the cost of a food service contract was reduced by 40 percent after Halliburton's middleman role was eliminated.
Davis said there may be explanations, stating it might be a sound policy to abandon a truck rather than change a tire if a convoy comes under attack.